The Wolf of Awsworth

SymbolClaw

Awsworth is a small village in the Broxtowe district on the edge of Greater Nottinghamshire. A former mining community, a little over 2,000 people currently call it home.

Back in the early 90’s, it was the location of a series of most unusual sightings.

But first, an urban legend. One I have heard attributed to several places, but the first time it was told to me was in relation to Awsworth.

According to local lore, in late 1976 a teenage boy found a Ouija board in his grandparent’s attic. Deciding to test its power, he declared out loud that he would gladly trade his soul to Satan in exchange for the ability to turn himself into a werewolf. Later that evening, a friend of the boy received an odd phone call, consisting of strange growling and guttural noises.

The next day the boy was found dead in his bedroom, having slit his own throat with a knife made of silver*.

This tale is certainly interesting, if only because it highlights the English propensity for placing blame at the Devil’s door for the misfortune of the young.

But, as I stated, it is probably no more than an urban legend. There are no records of any young males passing away in the village in 1976, let alone by suicide.

Yet there is evidence of something lupine abroad in the sleepy lanes of Awsworth some fifteen years later.

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22nd May 2012

Phillip Bishop is a short and jovial fellow. Apparently in his mid-40’s, he has the countenance of someone half that age. Back in the August of 1992, he had just started as the local postman in the village.

Currently a painter and decorator, Mr Bishop has kindly taken an afternoon out of his schedule to meet me at The Bell Inn in central Nottingham. Over a pint of Guinness he tells me of his experience in the summer of ’92.

“It was a Saturday. I know that as I had the next day off. No post on a Sunday, yeah. I was ‘sposed to meet my friend Travis for a few beers at our favourite pub, The Gate. I ‘member that I’d woken up late. I always had a nap on Saturday afternoon. I didn’t want to be falling asleep at the pub. I’d done that before and woken up with a dick drawn on my face in permanent marker.

“Anyway, like I said, I’d slept a bit longer than I’d meant to. So I got dressed, scarfed down a sandwich and jumped on my bike.

“It was getting dark, but it was still warm, and a full moon with it. I flew down Main Street on my way to the boozer.

“As I was going down the road, I saw in the distance this tall guy. He really stood out, dressed all in black. It looked like he had a long coat on, one that went all the way down his legs, and a hat pulled down over his face.

“He seemed… out of place, just standing stock still by the side of the road in the moonlight.

“As I got closer, I realised it wasn’t a man at all.”

I ask him what it was.

“It was like a… a dog, I ‘spose. A giant dog. Stood up on is back legs, like a guy. With pointed ears and this big, long snout.

“It was staring at me with these big yellow eyes. I didn’t even think to turn around. I just pedalled by it as fast as my bike would carry me.

“As I went by it kinda growled at me. Like it was saying, ‘I see you, lad. Keep going. Keep going.’ And it didn’t take those horrible yellow eyes off me. Not once.

“I got to the Gate and told Travis about this weird dog-man. He didn’t believe me at first, but as the beers went down he could see I wasn’t lying. I was pretty shaken up by the whole thing. After a couple of hours and some ‘Dutch courage’, we decided to go back and look for it.

“We didn’t find it. I cycled that route many nights after, and I never saw anything like that thing again.

“I’m not crazy, Dr Gotobed. And I wasn’t drunk. Like I said, I was on my way to the pub when I saw it. Between you and me, I wish I’d never seen it.”

Mr Bishop’s apparent desire to be believed, I find, makes him all the more credible.

But were there other sightings of this mysterious dog-man that warm summer in 1992?

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Two mornings later, at nearby Swindlegate farm, two horses were found dead in their stables. Their carcasses were torn apart as if, in the words of the stable owner, ‘savaged by something particularly large and particularly nasty’.

The local authorities were at a loss to explain what could, and indeed, would, cause such carnage.

The trail falls silent, and no further sightings are reported. At least until early 1994.

#

According to police records, late in the evening of January the 11th, one Mr Tankard was on his way back to his home in Awsworth from Gatwick airport, his long-haul flight from the Caribbean having touched down a few hours previous.

Mr Tankard was, by his own admission, very tired from his journey, and he was struggling to stay awake at the wheel.

At about midnight, he turned off the A610 and onto Awsworth Lane, the road that eventually becomes Main Street. Half a mile along, a large black shape bounded across the road in front of him. Mr Tankard slammed on his brakes, but it was too late. His vehicle struck the dark mass head on and with a dull thud sent it flying into a nearby field.

Mr Tankard stopped his car and he went to look for whatever he had struck. He found it, a few yards away. He recalled it was a large animal, possibly a dog, although bigger than any canine he had ever seen. It wasn’t breathing, so, after checking his car for damage, he continued home and called the police when he got there.

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23rd May 2012

Paru Singh was the Scenes of Crime Officer on duty that night, and she was asked to accompany a local police officer out to the location of the accident. They were the first on the scene.

I meet her at a local coffee shop where she shares with me her recollection of that early January morning.

“An officer had gone to Mr Tankard’s home and was telling us over the radio what we could expect. He said the old boy reckoned he’d struck some kind of dog. Like, a massive dog. He seemed to think that it might’ve even have been a wolf.

“But you and I know that there are no wolves in England, am I right, Dr Gotobed? There hasn’t been for two hundred years.”  

She blows the steam from her coffee and takes a sip.

“But the officer who was at their home and had looked over the car said he’d found tufts of black fur stuck in the bumper and the radiator grille.

“So that I got me thinking it might’ve been a German Shepherd or a husky of some kind. They can get pretty big, and the old boy did say he was knackered. Maybe his eyes were playing tricks on him? Tiredness mixed with driving at night can do that to a person.

“But as we were driving down Awnswoth Lane it struck me how bright the moon was that night, and there were no clouds at all.

“We found the skid marks on the road, that must’ve been the point where Mr Tankard had hit the brakes, and we got out and searched the field next to the road. We found the body quite quickly.

“It wasn’t a German Shepherd, or a husky.

“And it certainly wasn’t a wolf.”

What was it?

“It was a man. A naked man.”

An autopsy was conducted on this corpse and the cause of death was noted as massive internal trauma caused by the impact with Mr Tankard’s vehicle.

The man was six foot seven tall, in his early forties, and judged to be in robust health at the time of his death. Apart from an impressive amount of body hair, there was nothing deemed unusual about him physiologically.

His fingerprints and DNA were taken and ran against all databases available to the police at the time, to no avail. Even after a huge media campaign, no one ever came forward to claim the body.

He was buried in a shared, unmarked grave, his identity still a mystery.

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So who was this hirsute man running around the fields of Awsworth during a January full moon? Was he somehow the same creature that Mr Bishop saw, the same beast responsible for the deaths of the two horses at Swindlegate farm? Or was the young postman mistaken that night in July, and the incident at the nearby stables merely coincidental?

Either way, Mr Tankard hit something that night on his way home from the airport, and to this day, he insists it was an animal, and definitely not a human being that he struck.

Once again, there is a curious end to this case. Paru Singh tells me that several years later, one of the other bodies buried in the same unmarked grave as our mystery man was exhumed, evidently to be subjected to further DNA testing. According to her, the officers charged with performing this task were most unamused to find someone had buried the remains of a large canine in the same plot.

The Scenes of Crime Officer did not point out the rather obvious correlation, instead choosing to discreetly hold her tongue.

I fear I would not have been able to do the same.

Dr Thomas Gotobed

* I also heard this tale was I was younger, but in relation to a village in Yorkshire, not Awsworth. When I read this file, I couldn’t help but note the similarities with this earlier report – C.R. 

Operation Werwolf

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1st April 1945 

‘My werewolf teeth bite the enemy-

And then he’s done and then he’s gone.’  

These were the words, preceded by a wolf howling, that began the first transmission of Radio Werwolf. The Nazi Party, staring defeat in the face, used the broadcast to exhort every last German citizen to ‘stand his ground and do or die against the Allied armies.’ The programme ended with the chill words: ‘…a single motto remains for us: “Conquer or die”.’

Radio Werwolf’s purpose was, ostensibly, to prove to the near-victorious Allies that the German people would not roll over and accept defeat easily; that a highly trained, highly organised underground force, aided by the local populous, would fight to the last for the Nazi cause.

Operation Werwolf.

But this was not to be.

Whilst pockets of resistance did spring up, mainly small bands of remaining SS troops and the odd group of die-hard Nazis, there was no stomach left in the defeated German people for more violence, and Operation Werwolf proved to be far more effective as a propaganda tool than it ever did as a viable military campaign.

The name Werwolf was taken from the 1910 novel Der Wehrwolf by Herman Lönns, a favourite text of the Nazi Party owing to the fact that its words could be framed in the context of a particularly rabid form of patriotism. The novel itself makes no mention of shapeshifting or lycanthropy, although it is easy to imagine Nazi top brass envisioning with a smile legion upon legion of lupine warriors resisting the Allied advance.

The station ceased to broadcast after a few weeks, and Radio Werwolf fell silent.

Twelve months later, with the Führer dead and the war over, Germany’s capital, Berlin, was well within the grip of the Allied Forces.

Berlin

3rd April 1945

A young US serviceman named Aloysius ‘Louis’ Blair, stationed in the west of the city, uses a day’s leave to take a stroll through the Grunewald Forest with a fellow soldier. Private Blair’s journal, kindly donated by his granddaughter, reveals in a cramped scrawl that he and his companion elect to spend that crisp morning strolling through the conifer and birch trees of the woods. Come noon, they settle down in a glade to partake of a spot of lunch, a cigarette or two, and a nip from the bottle of brandy Private Blair’s colleague has ‘liberated’ from a black market profiteer.

All is calm in the forest. And it is in the calmest moments that fate tends to play her hand.

Through a haze of cigarette smoke, a small flash of sunlight glints off of something in the distance, deeper into the woods.

Louis and his colleague, still young enough for curiosity to flow through their veins, go to investigate the source of the fleeting illumination. To their surprise, disguised by the underbrush, they find an iron door set into a slightly raised mound of earth. The door is heavy, rusted and stubborn, but it opens under the combined strength of the two servicemen. The air that assails them from within ‘smelled like an ol’ waff’s crab hole,’ in Louis’ rather colourful words.

What they find, down a short set of steps, is a bunker; a bunker stacked high with weapons and munitions. Scattered across the floor are discarded food cans, along with other signs to suggest that the bunker has recently been occupied. With the memory of the Radio Werwolf broadcasts ringing in their ears, the two soldiers search the bunker thoroughly. Convincing themselves that the place is deserted, and that there are no other exits or entrances, the pair draw straws to see who will stay and who will return to base to inform their superiors of this cache of Nazi resistance supplies. Blair draws the shorter straw and stays behind, taking up position directly outside the door with only his rifle and the bottle of brandy for company.

All is silent, save for the odd buzz of an insect and the rustle of leaves in the afternoon breeze.

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June 8th 2010

In a beachside café in the German town of Bad Doberan, I sit and sip sweet black coffee with Bertha Weber, a local resident, born in Berlin in 1935. Her body is frail, but her mind is sharp, her English flawless, and her memories of that day vivid.

“I remember that afternoon clearly, yes, even now. I’d had an argument with my mother, something about the way I’d swept the floor. What’s the word you English use? Half-arsed, yes, that’s it.

“It was a beautiful day, so I went for a walk in the forest. I found it calming. The war was over, but it didn’t feel like it was finished. Not in the city, anyway. But out there… it felt peaceful. Do you understand?

“I was picking wildflowers. I thought I would take them back to Mother, to say sorry for my behaviour, but then I heard a whimpering in the undergrowth. To start with I thought it might be a baby or a child. After all, it would not be the first time someone had left their unwanted ‘negermischlinge’ in the woods. But as I got closer, I found what I thought then was a large hound, but now suspect was a wolf. It was thin, like a bag of bones, not quite fully grown but definitely not a puppy, with big glassy eyes. I stood still, not wanting to scare it. Eventually it climbed to its feet, and it walked off slowly on wobbling legs. It kept stopping and turning its head, like it wanted me to follow. So I did.

“It led me to a clearing, and there was a man there. An American. A soldier. He was standing by a door in the ground. He saw the hound, and me, and then he pointed his rifle. Americans and their guns. Some things never change, eh?

“The soldier started babbling something at me over his weapon. I don’t remember what it was, I didn’t speak English  back then. The hound went over to the door in the earth and I shooed the soldier aside. I wasn’t scared of him, I’d seen enough of ‘die Amis’ by then to know he wasn’t going to shoot a young girl.

“The dog shuffled by him, and down in to the dark. The soldier started shouting at me in German, but his accent was so bad it didn’t really get what he was saying, so I shouted back.

“As we were yelling at each other I heard a voice from inside the what I now know was a bunker. A weak, frail voice. It was saying ‘…hilfe… hilfe…”

My German isn’t great, but even I know that word. Help.

“The soldier and I looked at one another with wide eyes. He went down in to the bunker, and I followed.

“At the foot of the stairs, sprawled out on the floor, was a boy. He can’t have been much older than a teenager, and he was so thin, gaunt even. His eyes were sunken and I could see his ribs through his skin. He looked awful, like a ghoul.

“I caught a glimpse of the soldier. I’ll never forget the look on his face. I could tell that kid wasn’t supposed to be down there.”

Forest B & W

Private Blair’s journal goes on to detail the arrival of his battalion’s commanding officer, and his vain attempts to explain the sudden appearance of the emaciated teenager. The discovery of the contraband brandy in his possession almost led to a court martial, and the young soldier was ordered to keep his head down and his nose clean for the foreseeable future, and not to speak of the incident in the Grunewald Forest again.

Private Blair returned to the US the following year and lived out his days as a police officer in Oklahoma. He died in his sleep in 1994. It appears he never told anyone of what he saw that day in Berlin.

Frau Weber passed away in January of 2011.

Other than Private Blair’s journal and Frau Weber’s testimony, no record of the cadaverous interloper in the bunker exists. His fate is unknown. It is interesting to note that, apart from this incident, there have been no sightings of wolves in Berlin for over a hundred years.

I believe it is safe to speculate that this was probably not what Nazi High Command had in mind when they commissioned Operation Werwolf.

Dr. Thomas Gotobed